Public Square

Rising fuel prices

Silence is bliss. And this is a universally acclaimed, tried and tested formula which ostensibly proves handier in the face of crisis. The political parties more so ruling parties and their Governments often try this formula when faced with controversial issues lest they are dragged into the resultant debate. Sealed lips seemed to be the best bet under the circumstances.
And what if a Government maintains studied silence on issues that directly hits common persons both in terms of pocket and stomach? The silence seemingly must be blissful particularly when there are no protestations, as is the current case with shooting prices of petrol and diesel. But should this quietude be taken as a testament of people’s assent for something which is hitting them hard.
No certainly not. The helplessness of the people and their inability to hit the streets in protest is certainly not a certification of affirmation. It certainly does not make a case for the Government to turn a blind eye to the record breaking high price of petrol and diesel and that too when the international prices of the crude oil are correspondingly very low.
There is a record breaking hike in the prices of petrol and diesel across the country with the price of petrol already having touched the Rs 100 per litre mark in some states. As a sample, let us take the case of Delhi where as on February 16, 2021, petrol had touched Rs 89.29 per litre and diesel Rs 79.70 per litre. Similar situation prevails in other metros as well as the big cities and towns.
The direct impact of the continuous and astronomical rise in the prices of petrol and diesel is the resultant heightened prices of essential commodities and consumer goods. What make the situation more dreadful are the blissful silence of the official quarters and no signs of inclination to provide relief to the common masses, deathly silence of the opposition parties- whose protestation is limited to occasional press conferences, and via social media. What makes the scenario even more worrying is the absolute indifference of the social groups/ trade and industrial unions; rather they seemed to have accepted the situation as it is without a word of protest.
Inflation was one of the reasons that caused the downfall of the Congress-led UPA Government in 2014. The scenes of the then opposition BJP leaders hitting the streets every now and then to rightfully highlight the people’s difficulties due to price rise, immediately come to mind. More so, when the same leaders now either ministers or part of the ruling party dispensation are either silent or in some manner justify the hike in prices of petrol and diesel.
The cost of one litre of petrol in Delhi in 2014 when Narendra Modi became Prime Minister was Rs 71 as against the current Rs 89. 29. Whereas a litre of diesel at that time was Rs 57 per litre as against Rs 79.70 as of now. The increase has been continuous and steady barring some rare occasions when marginal decline was noticed very briefly.
What has made the matter worst was that petrol and diesel prices had become dearer when the country was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic during the last one year? At a time when people had lost jobs and sources of income, had no money in their pockets, the prices soared. Petrol and diesel, which are almost a lifeline in the modern age, becoming costlier with the government showing little or no concern to control the fuel prices, it has become nightmarish for the people.
It is also a universally accepted fact that the Governments have to manage the economy and insure steady flow of funds for development of the country. But nothing could be more fallacious than putting the entire onus on the people for generation of revenue through imposing heavy taxes and that too without ensuring corresponding increase in income.
It would be naive to entirely blame the people for silently accepting the situation. Consolidation of public opinion is in itself a process and to crystallise that opposition parties in a democracy have an important role to play. Who better than the present ruling party to testify this fact?
Leave aside the public interest, the opposition parties have not been able to take up this issue in furtherance of their own political interest and future. Yes, the opposition parties are not on the radar of a sizable section of the media, which the opposition parties have been using as an excuse to justify their silence on public issues, but this is no justification.
The Left Parties, who are synonymous with trade union moments, have been driven to the margins due to successive electoral routs. Same is the story of Congress and other Opposition Parties on this front. This one way of consolidating and articulating the people’s opinion has been lost.
Of late, the faction ridden Congress has shown some interest in raising the price rise issue relating it to the hike in petrol and diesel prices. But that is not enough and has to be carried forward to jolt the government out of its blissful silence in the people’s interest.
According to Congress the Central Government has collected more than Rs 20 lakh crore in the last six years through imposing excise and other taxes on petrol and diesel. The party general secretary, Ajay Maken questioned as to where have this amount gone?
“Our Jawans, our Government employees, their DA is being cut. Our small entrepreneurs, our MSMEs, they are continuously under pressure from the bank to repay the loans and they are continuously under the pressure of the taxation authorities. There is huge unemployment across the country. The farmers are committing suicide, so where has this amount of more than 20 lakh crore has gone?” he asked.
The Government has till date silently rejected demand for reduction in excise on petrol and diesel to bring the prices down and give relief to the people. The reason forwarded by them is that the revenue generated by these means was necessary to keep the engine of national development going.
The question arises if this is the only means of collecting revenue? Should not the government have focused on other alternate means of revenue generation rather than putting entire burden on the person on the street?

 

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